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Bogota Cyclists Go Green, Rolling Over Traffic And Smog

Bogota residents are increasingly braving reckless car drivers, crime and pollution to cycle their way through the Colombian capital. It's one way people are taking back public spaces.

Cycling in Bogota
Cycling in Bogota

BOGOTA — It's impossible to ignore car traffic or air pollution in the Colombian capital of Bogota, but there is cause for optimism here as cycling becomes increasingly visible. The city government is encouraging this green transport, and younger residents especially are keen to find new ways to live in this car-dominated metropolis.

If you plan to be among the million or so foreign tourists who visit the capital every year, cycling may be a good option for getting around, becoming familiar with the city geography, and meeting locals through cycling groups.

One of the city's most popular circuits is the Sunday ride and walk downthe carrera Séptima, one of the major arteries linking residential northern Bogota to the historical district, which is closed to auto traffic Sunday mornings.

The city has also begun cycling nights on Wednesdays and Thursdays, effectively adopting a trend now solidly established in European and some American cities. It allows residents to rediscover a habit President John F. Kennedy once described as an incomparable, if simple, pleasure.

The trend began here about five years ago when few believed it was feasible or could catch on amid significant smog and sometimes life-threatening car traffic. Today, there are 15 cycling groups in the capital.

"Some are born to create a space inside each locality so people can know and start owning the city," says Walter García, head of the En Bici es Mejor group. He says it also unites friends who like the same things and who want to make a difference. Other routes he suggests include around the Campín stadium to the historic Plaza de Bolívar, to Suba in northern Bogota, or the Chorro de Quevedo, one of the city's oldest districts. It's even possible to cycle to the airport.

Some of the neighborhood itineraries include Fontirueda, Teusacatubici — in the trendy, midtown district of Teusaquillo — or Bikennedy in the southern district named after John F. Kennedy, who visited Bogota in 1961. Other groups take members on rides outside the capital.

Unfortunately, theft and other crimes are a reality in Bogota, and there are intermittent reports of muggers attacking cyclists, who lack the protection of a private vehicle but attract more attention than pedestrians. For that reason, some cycling groups don't publish their routes on networking websites, instead telling members just the meeting point.

Photo: CicloPaseo Cachaco

Groups typically cycle for between two and six hours. Whatever the distance or time, membership is free. Some, like Ciclopaseo Cachaco, have dress codes (vintage lovers, this is the group for you). Others, such as ChicKs Bikes, have one-off themes.

Bogota has the largest regional network of bike lines, 392 kilometers, according to the city's transport authority. Authorities put the current number of cyclists at 450,000 and growing. But of course, the trend's longer-term environmental benefits and impact on social culture, while almost certain, have yet to be measured.

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Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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